Easter Sunday – Sunday, April 21, 2019

April 21, 2019  
Filed under Sermons, Uncategorized

Luke 24:1-11

If they had anointed his body on the night he died, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women would have been arrested. The Sabbath had begun—they would have been violating religious law that said they were to honor the Sabbath to keep it holy.

And so Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others waited. They waited until the first day of the week, at dawn. At dawn they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared, planning to anoint Jesus’ body.

A huge stone had been rolled in front of the tomb; the Romans wanted to be sure no one would steal Jesus. Roman soldiers stood guard.

This group of women loved Jesus. They were all part of a collection of people who followed Jesus throughout his ministry. Luke called them disciples; they were not the twelve disciples but part of a larger group of followers.
They loved Jesus.
Which is why they went to his tomb to minister to his body. They went to anoint him.

When they arrived they found the stone rolled away. The stone that blocked the opening of the tomb. The stone placed there by the Roman guard.

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others did not appear to have been startled or surprised by the fact that the stone had been rolled away. Maybe they weren’t aware the stone had been placed there. Maybe they thought it was a convenient coincidence, since they needed to get into the tomb. Whatever it was they thought, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others went into the tomb.
Where they found no body. Nobody was there.
In first century Jerusalem, it was not common for bodies to be taken from their graves. Jesus’ body had disappeared! Anything might have happened to him.
Luke wrote that the women were “perplexed” (Luke 24:4).

They were “completely baffled” (bing.com definition). They were “puzzled” (bing.com).

I don’t know about you, but if I went to a grave to visit a loved one’s body and the grave was open and the body was gone, I would be a whole lot more than perplexed! “Perplexed” doesn’t begin to describe what my reaction would be.

Then, topping off the women’s perplexity, two men in “dazzling clothes” (Luke 24:4) suddenly appeared beside them. Which terrified the women. Rightly so.

The men asked “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Why?
Why?
Because he was not living, he was dead!
That’s not what the women said to the men in dazzling clothes. That’s what I would have said. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women were perplexed and terrified and “bowed their faces to the ground” (Luke 24:5).
“He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5).
“Remember how he told you… on the third day he would rise again” (Luke 24:6).

They remembered.
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women—they remembered!

He was alive!
Jesus was alive!

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women left the tomb and they told the eleven disciples and they told the other disciples: he is alive!

Jesus is alive!

At first the women were not believed.
Then Peter went to the tomb to see for himself and he was amazed.
Later that day Jesus appeared to other followers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-15). And so it went. Jesus was alive and they all, men and women, loved him.

Jesus is alive and we love him.

We gather because we believe. Jesus is alive! And we love him!
Jesus lived and Jesus lives because God so loved the world that God gave Jesus to the world. The death of Jesus was for the world. The resurrection of Jesus was for the world! The sacrifice and victory of Jesus Christ was and is for the world! And we love him.

Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Amen.

Maundy Thursday – Thursday, April 18, 2019

April 18, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

John 13:1-17

It “is not about the water” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 724).
It is not about the feet.

As I just read, after washing the feet of other disciples, Jesus was about to wash his disciple Peter’s feet. Peter was resistant, saying “You will never wash my feet” (John 13:8). If we are like Peter in the way we see and hear what Jesus said and did, Jesus’ response to Peter sounds like something my mom might have said to me when I told her “no” to something she wanted to do to me: “Oh yes I will. If you want (fill in the blank), you are going to let me do this.”

Actually, Jesus said “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” John 13:8).
Which Peter mistook for “you better let me wash you” when really Jesus was saying “you need to open yourself to the relationship I want to have with you on my terms, not on yours.”

For Jesus, the foot washing was not about the water and it was not about the feet. For Jesus, washing his disciples’ feet was an act of love, an intimate touching and cleansing intended to show (on a micro level) the disciples’ how much Jesus loved them, and (on a macro level) how much God loved and loves the world.

God’s love is something we talk about all the time. I preach about God’s love for us and for the world all the time. God’s love for us is central to everything we believe about God and about our need for God.

How often do we think about God’s love for us in an intimate way?
Do we think about Jesus touching us, touching our hearts, touching our lives just as he touched his disciples’ feet?

The act of touching is much discussed these days.
People are asking what level of touch is appropriate between people. Who has a right to touch who? And where. And when. And how.

The discussion is important. No one should touch any other person in any way unless the person about to be touched has given the person about to do the touching permission to do so. That is a simple matter of respect that every person ought to be able to understand.

Which complicates this image we have of Jesus. Jesus was the teacher. Jesus was the rabbi. Jesus was the leader of the group, the person with all the power. And he was insisting on washing, on touching his disciples’ feet.
Which is why it is important to say “It’s not about the water. It’s not about the feet.” And add to that “It’s not about the touching, at least not LITERALLY.” Think of the story as a revelation.

Our gospel story reveals that God wants our relationship with God to be intimate. Our gospel story reveals that God wants our relationship with God to touch our hearts. Our gospel story reveals that God wants our relationship with God to touch our lives. Our gospel story reveals that God wants us to feel God’s love. Our gospel story reveals that God wants no distance between God and us.

God loves us.
With all humility, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Humbling himself, Jesus died on a cross. We remember his love. We receive his love. Thanks be to God for the love God so generously and intimately provides.

Amen.

Palm Sunday – Sunday, April 14, 2019

April 14, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 19:28-40

One might think of Jesus as a Marginal King.
He wasn’t a king of nobles.
He did not have a royal court surrounding him. No jester. No throne.
There was no war horse for him to ride.
There were no army battalions marching in behind him.
No one showered his entrance into Jerusalem with flowers.

Jesus rode in on a borrowed donkey. Two of his disciples threw their cloaks on the colt, garments that were probably stained and dirty from the dust on the road. Other people spread their garments on the path the donkey walked, garments that were probably equally as grimy as those the disciples wore.

The multitude of people praising God as Jesus road by were his disciples, not just the twelve but many others who followed his teaching. They weren’t royalty either. According to the gospel of Luke his disciples were people who fished, they were tax collectors, Samaritans, the blind or crippled, they were women and children…
His parade into Jerusalem was not fancy; this was not a parade with royalty in chariots waving.

As one scholar wrote “Jesus was the king of the oppressed and suffering. He shared their hardships, relieved their suffering, accepted them when others deemed them unacceptable, gave them hope, and embodied God’s love for them. Now they came to march with him into the holy city” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume 9, p. 370).

They shouted: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven” (Luke 19:38).

Their words were echoes of Psalm 118:26, where it is written: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Luke changed the words to specify that Jesus was king, and he added that Jesus would bring peace. But otherwise, Luke echoed the psalmist.

Consider the fact that the disciples believed, actually they believed and they hoped Jesus brought peace to the world.
Their hope for peace shows us that Christ’s kingdom was not and is not like a typical kingdom on earth. Christ’s conquering army was an army of angelic hosts, and they were singing. Jesus Christ healed wounds, he did not inflict them. Jesus freed people from their sin, he did not capture and enslave them. Jesus brought people in from the margins, he did not marginalize them. Jesus was a Marginal King.

Recall the words the angels sang when Jesus was born. According to Luke, they sang: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those he favors.” (Luke 2:14).

Is this the king we worship and praise?

The King of peace? The king of misfits and sinners? The king of the poor?

There are those Christians who long for Jesus to be the King of prosperity, the king who preached that life with God promises wealth and comfort. Do not believe them.
Reading the gospels, we know this is not who Jesus was and is not who Jesus ever could have been.

Mary, his mother, knew the kind of king her son would be when she sang her song of praise: His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1: 50-53).
This is our royal Christ, the Marginal King.

He calls us and others out of the margins, asking us to follow him. He heals wounds. He warms hearts. He calls his followers to live lives of peace.

And he asks us to follow him as we journey through our lives, loving others as he has loved us.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Amen.

Fifth Wednesday of Lent – Wednesday, April 10, 2019

April 10, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Psalm 126

There’s always something to argue about.
I don’t know about you but, I have had arguments about some ridiculous things.
When I have those kind of arguments, they seem (in the moment) extremely important. Later on I look back on the argument and think “Really? Did we really argue about that?”

As I was studying in preparation for this sermon I happened upon a scholarly argument about how Psalm 126 was translated. If you look at the translation we have in our bulletin, you will see that the first three verses are written in past tense, describing what God has done for the people of Zion. Verses four through six in the psalm are translated in both present tense and future tense. “Restore our fortunes O Lord” is a present tense plea. The writer, speaking on behalf of a people, says “we need this now.” Then the writer imagines what shall happen when their fortunes have been restored: those who weep will “come home with shouts of joy” (The New Interpreter’s Bible volume 4, p. 1194).

Not all scholars agree that psalm 126 should be translated in tenses that aren’t consistent with one another. Some scholars translate the psalm all in past tense, some translate the psalm all in future tense (TNIB vol. 4 pp. 1194-1195).

Their arguments are not ridiculous because the tense of the translation changes the entire meaning of the psalm. If the psalm is all in past tense it is speaking to what God has done, making it a psalm of thanksgiving. If the psalm is translated all in future tense it is a plea for help. Translating the psalm in all three makes it a little bit of each: it is a words of thanks, a word of longing, and a word of trust all at the same time (TNIB vol. 4 pp. 1194).

The scholar re-capping the argument believed the best translation of the psalm was the one that combined tenses, allowing the psalm to have relevance for every generation, regardless of what circumstance people found themselves in (TNIB vol. 4, p. 1195).

As faithful people, we have a rich history of relationship with God that goes back generation after generation. The bible tells the stories of centuries. Reading scripture, we can see what God has done. And we give thanks.

As faithful people, we look at our relationship with God in our own lifetimes. We look back and give thanks for what God has done in our lives. We look at what God is doing in our lives and we rejoice or we wonder, or we hope for a future that is better than what the present is, praying.

As faithful people, we look at our relationship with God and we have hopes, hopes rooted in our confidence that God has been present– that God is present, and that God will always be present in our lives and in the world. We hope for our own futures and we hope for the future of next generations. We hope for the future of the world in all its totality—beyond just that of humankind.

The season of Lent is just such a journey from past to present to future.
We look at the needs of the world that brought God to believe God needed to give God’s only Son, that all who believe might perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). We look at the ministry of Jesus, at his words and deeds. We look at his death grieving his suffering while knowing his death would bring about his resurrection. And we give thanks.

In this moment, we see our own sinfulness, knowing how desperately we need the promise of forgiveness. We know our need even as we trust that grace is ours because God has said God loves us in spite of what we do.

Looking to tomorrow, or to the days after tomorrow, we believe in God’s promises. God promises to be with us, always. God promises to love us, always. God promises eternal life lived with God, forever.

Remembering, believing, and trusting—even in our worst moments we can hope that our fortunes will be restored.

We know, those who “sow in tears” WILL reap “with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:5).

We believe, those “who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:6).

We remember.
We know.
We trust and we hope.

Because God “has done great things for us” we rejoice (Psalm 126:3).

Amen.

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 31, 2019

March 31, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 15:11-32

People read the story of the Prodigal Son and want to ask: who am I in this story?
Am I the prodigal son? Am I the other son? Am I the father, the one that has to deal with these two children?

Let’s not do that just yet.
Let’s ask about God.
Where is God in this story? Is God the prodigal son, leaving us to explore the wonders of the world? Is God the other son, the one we tend to not notice because he does what is expected of him? Or is God our divine parent, loving us through our life journeys?
The answer is obvious, God is our divine parent. But I say that knowing God is so much more.

If we were to reach down into the deepest places of our lives, if we were to reach down into the most profound and intimate experiences of love we know or have known or want to know…
If we were to reach down in and grab those experiences or those hopes of love and lift those experiences or hopes out of ourselves, naming them as most profound, most intimate, deepest, most incredibly true…
And then we were to take God’s love and compare God’s love FOR US to the truest loves we know or have known or hope to know…

We could only say of God’s love: it is more.

God’s love is more.

Which, in the context of this story, puts “words to both the wonder and the horror of the world” (Buechner, Telling the Truth, Harper and Row 1977, p. 21).
God’s love is more: that’s the wonder.
We treat God’s love with casual regard: that’s the horror.

Have you ever, like the prodigal son, removed yourself from the comfort and the blessedness of God’s love?
You might answer the question as I would, by saying “No.” We know, we cannot remove ourselves from the comfort and blessedness of God’s love. God is always there, loving us. We cannot just tell God to “go away.” That’s not the way it works.
But we can distance ourselves. We can be indifferent to all that God offers us.
We can become detached.

I learned to throw “skippers” when I was a little girl. My dad taught me how to choose the smoothest, flattest stone. He taught me how to hold it in my hand, and then how to angle my arm as I tossed the stone across the top of the water. I got to be pretty good at skipping rocks. By the time I moved to California I was able to challenge a seminary friend to a competition: who could skip the largest stone. As we stood on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, I remember us tossing bigger and bigger stones. Finally, I picked up a flat brick. I held it in my hand and tossed it at an angle and it skipped across the surface of the ocean. I won!

Imagine skipping a brick.

Just so—our human inclination towards God.
Just so—how we incline ourselves towards God.
We skip across the surface of that relationship, sometimes touching, sometimes making a splash. Mostly there’s air. How often do we let ourselves just sink into God’s love for us?

God does not choose this detachment.
We do.
OMG!
Seriously, this is our prayer: O My God! I’ve got bills to pay and a kitchen floor to fix and trim to finish putting up on the windows and now there is a yard to clean up and a deck to power-wash and another deck to stain and dishes to do and a freezer to defrost and sermons to write and a staff that keeps changing on me and people to visit…

I’m keeping myself busy. Too busy. How about you?
What will it take for us to realize we need God, we want God, and we have God if we would just slow down and sink into the most incredible love we will ever know?

Alan Culpepper wrote in his commentary on this story:

No other image has come closer to describing the character of God than the waiting father, peering down the road longing for the son’s return, then springing to his feet and running to meet him.”

(The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 302).

Again and again and again—God receives us.
Again and again and again—God forgives us our sin.
Again and again and again—God welcomes us back into a relationship that was never really gone.

God receives us, God forgives us, God welcomes us home because God loves us.
And, God’s love is more.

Amen.

Third Wednesday of Lent – Wednesday, March 27, 2019

March 27, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Psalm 63:1-8

The psalmist who wrote Psalm 63 was longing to see God.
I don’t think the psalmist is alone in that. I’m guessing many of us have shared the same longing. To see God. To hear God. To be in the company of God.

Some scholars assume (The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume 4, pp. 926-928) that the writer of Psalm 63 spent the night in the Temple in Jerusalem waiting for an answer to his or her prayer.

The psalmist prayed to God: I seek you (verse 1).
The psalmist prayed to God: My soul thirsts for you (verse 1).
The psalmist prayed to God: My flesh faints for you (verse 1).

The psalmist describes his or her longing to that of a person in a “dry and weary land where there is no water.”
Was the psalmist kneeling in prayer all night, longing for an answer? Was the psalmist sitting on a stool or on the floor, head down, silently longing for God? Was the psalmist pacing the floor, muttering words, pleading for a response?

Sometimes I come and sit in this sanctuary and pray.
I’ve spent time alone, sitting in the sanctuary of every ministry I have served. I don’t believe I’ve ever longed to see God in those times, but I have often longed for enlightenment. Or for comfort. Or for peace of mind. Or for a little bit of calm when everything seems stressed and busy.

Richard Foster wrote in his book Celebration of Discipline, in his chapter on prayer that Martin Luther declared “I have so much business I cannot go on without spending three hours daily in prayer” (p. 34). Apparently the busier Luther was the more he prayed.
This prayer that is our psalm feels different.
There is longing; there is also satisfaction.

I have gazed on you in your holy place… (verse 2).
My spirit is content (verse 5).

Not only has the psalmist longed for God, but there is also a sense that the psalmist has had his or her longings satisfied.
You have been my helper (verse 7) the palmist wrote.
Your right hand holds me fast (verse 8).

Scholar Mark Smith thinks the psalmist had a “solar theophany” (TNIB, vol. 4, p. 926). Smith thinks the psalmist saw the sun rise over the Mount of Olives and illuminate the Temple (TNIB, vol. 4, p. 926). Smith believes this was a visible manifestation of God… that God was there in the sun (TNIB, vol. 4, p. 926).

I chose the photograph we have on the cover of our bulletin because it is a solar event. Not a theophany, but a regular event. When the sun shines in the morning, it shines through our stained glass windows and creates art on the floor, on the pews, on the pillars, on the piano. It happens again in the afternoon, coming in the windows on the other side. I have begun taking photos of the light because, each times it happens, it is beautiful. The colors feel warm. I don’t see God in them but I feel God’s presence.

Like the psalmist, my spirit is content (verse 5).

Finding both longing and contentment in the same psalm is unusual. Reading it, I’m left wondering: is it still possible? Can we, after a night of prayer and longing and supplication, discover that God is right here? Can we find that God is right beside us? Can we know with confidence that God is walking with us and living through the moment with us?

I think we can. I believe we can.

I believe that, like the psalmist we can pray to God, saying

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you (verse 1)

even as we say

I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory… (verse 2)
My soul clings to you;
Your right hand holds me fast” (verse 8).

May it be so.
Amen.

Third Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 24, 2019

March 24, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Isaiah 55:1-9

People have said we “do food” well here at Our Savior’s.
Give us a reason and we will share a meal. Or a snack. Or something.

Meals are a part of our tradition, not only here at Our Savior’s but as people of faith in communities around the world, throughout time.
Again, hear these words from the book of Isaiah:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good…

The Israelites had been living in exile, away from home, suffering desperately. There was famine. There was hunger. There was no water to drink; all were thirsty. There was no wine or milk to buy, even if anyone had money to buy it. There was nothing to eat.

And then—their exile ended. They were invited home.

Biblical scholar Gail Ramshaw wrote in her exegesis of this reading that their “return from exile signals a renewal of all of life.” (Sundays and Seasons).
The renewal wasn’t just for those people who were in exile. It was for all of God’s people.
Ramshaw wrote “God, whose mercy is beyond understanding, welcomes everyone who repents to enjoy a feast of forgiveness”(Sundays and Seasons).

On what does one dine when one is enjoying a feast of forgiveness?

In our sacramental context the answer is bread and wine—or maybe bread and grape juice.
Martin Luther wrote in his explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar (aka communion) that the benefit of eating and drinking is that

The words “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin” show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sin there is also life and salvation” (ELW p. 1166).

Key words: for you.
At least, according to Luther.
He wrote in the catechism that “the words ‘for you’ require truly believing hearts” (ELW p. 1166).

Do you believe that the body and blood of Christ were given for you?
Do you believe that the body and blood of Christ were shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin?

We don’t do “altar calls” in our tradition, but this altar is calling your name.
If you haven’t thought of it this way, think of it now—communion is one of the meals we here at Our Savior’s serve weekly. Just like Come for Supper. We haven’t always served weekly, not that long ago we served communion bi-weekly, probably before that it was monthly, and probably before that even less regularly, going back to when communion was served no more than two or three times a year. But we have been serving this meal for many, many years.

In fact, for as long as this congregation has existed, our altar has been calling people by name, saying “Come to the banquet, for all is now ready” (ELW p. 134).

There are those that question the need to serve communion each week. When I am asked why we do so I usually respond by saying that Luther would prefer we had communion every day.

Why?

Because we so desperately hunger for a feast of forgiveness. Each and every day.

Look at your selves. Look at your own hearts. Look at the many ways you turn from God rather than toward God. Our sinful selves manifest themselves daily. Our sinful selves manifest themselves hourly. We need Jesus. We need to receive his body and blood. We need to receive his promise of new life and salvation.

And so we come to the table, because we thirst. We come to eat what is good.
Thanks be to God for the gift of life and salvation we receive.

Amen.

Second Wednesday of Lent – Wednesday, March 20, 2019

March 20, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Psalm 27

A few months ago, during Come for Supper, one of our guests entered the back door of the stage, uncovered the Steinway piano, and began to play. I didn’t recognize him as a regular guest, so went over to the piano to talk to him. I suggested it was important that, before he played the piano, he should ask if it is ok to do so. He agreed that asking would be appropriate. With my permission he continued to play.
His music was pleasant to listen to. Some of what he played I recognized, some I did not.
After finishing one piece, he waved me back up onto to the stage. I stood next to the piano bench where he sat. He asked if he could “play me” a song he wrote. I said “Yes.” He began to play. And to sing.

There is a God who loves me,
Wraps me in his arms.
That is where I belong.
That is the place
I am strong.

That gentleman continues to come to Come for Supper and continues to play.
His name is Mark.
He has a gift, the gift of music.

It is written in Psalm 27:6

Even now my head is lifted up
Above my enemies who surround me.
Therefore I will offer sacrifice in the sanctuary,
Sacrifices of rejoicing;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Some of you might remember our former Bishop, April Ulring Larson.
Do you remember when her son Ben was killed in Haiti?
He died nine years ago.
Ben and his wife Renee and his cousin Jon were in Haiti teaching theology. While at the St. Joseph Home for Boys the earthquake hit. The three of them panicked and started to run. Ben stopped, hugging a pillar in the middle of the floor. Renee turned and saw concrete begin to fall on him. She ran toward him. Then the two floors above them collapsed in on them all. They were trapped.
Renee and Jon got out on top of the rubble. Renee began calling for Ben and could hear him singing from somewhere below. She told him she loved him. She told him to keep singing. Then his singing stopped.
The last words he sang were “God’s peace to us we pray.” (La Crosse Tribune).

Even now my head is lifted up
Above my enemies who surround me.
Therefore I will offer sacrifice in the sanctuary,
Sacrifices of rejoicing;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

*****

There is a God who loves me,
Wraps me in his arms.
That is where I belong.
That is the place
I am strong.

****

Music sooths the soul. Music heals wounds.
Music eases pain. Music frees us.
Music is medicine, a gift from God that can carry us to God.
We are carried on a note… on a sequence of notes. Carried through pains, through fears, through threats…

Imagine the writer of the 27th Psalm, hiding in the Temple in Jerusalem. The writer has been persecuted; the writer feels threatened. The writer’s enemies are surrounding him or her.

Then the writer sings. The writer makes music to the Lord (Psalm 27: 6).

You do not have to be a talented musician to sing to God.
Singing to God demands nothing but faith, faith in the God to whom you sing.
Faith in the God who gifts us with music that heals us, music that sooths us, music that eases our pain, music that frees us.

I know, we as a group do not sing. But we could. More importantly, you can, at least when you are somewhere private.
Or, if you can’t bring yourself to sing—
Think of the many others who will sing for you.
Think of the angels, singing songs of praise to God.
Think of the man who sat at the piano and sang to me:

There is a God who loves me,
Wraps me in his arms.
That is where I belong.
That is the place
I am strong.

God loves you. God’s arms are wrapped around you. You are strong.
Amen.

Second Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 17, 2019

March 17, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 13:31-35

One of the most beautiful stories in the bible is the story of Ruth and Naomi, told in the Old Testament book of Ruth.

Naomi was married to a man named Elimelech. Naomi and Elimelech had two sons: Mahlon and Chilion. All of them were Ephrathites who went to live in the land of Moab because of famine. Then Elimelech died. Then Mahlon and Chilion married, one marrying a woman named Orpah, the other marrying a woman named Ruth.
Then Mahlon and Chilion died, leaving Orpah and Ruth to live with Naomi.
According to the law of the land, Naomi was to provide Orpah and Ruth with new husbands; preferably the women would marry surviving brothers of their husbands Mahlon and Chilion. But there were no surviving brothers. And Naomi was too old to find a husband and have sons and then ask Orpah and Ruth to wait until the new sons grew old enough for them to marry.
Knowing all of this, Naomi instructed Orpah and Ruth to return to their mothers’ houses, hoping they would find more security there than they would if they continued to live with Naomi.
Orpah, weeping, agreed to leave and kissed her mother-in-law good-bye.
Ruth “clung to” (1:14) Naomi, saying

“Where you go I will go;
Where you lodge I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
There will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!” (1: 16b – 17)

And just so, Ruth traveled from the country of Moab to Judah with Naomi, returning to Naomi’s birth home.

 

Now, there was a rich man of the family of Elimelech, Naomi’s dead husband, the man’s name was Boaz. Ruth asked Naomi permission to go and work in fields owned by Boaz. She intended to follow the reapers of the fields, gleaning whatever grain they left behind. Naomi gave Ruth permission to go, so she went, working from “early morning… without resting for a moment” (2:7). It was there that Boaz found Ruth. Boaz asked the reapers about Ruth and they told him her story. Impressed by Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, Boaz spoke to Ruth, telling her she could, and would, find safety working in his fields.
And Boaz said to Naomi:

May the Lord reward you for your deeds,
and may you have a full reward from the Lord,
the God of Israel,
under whose wings you have come for refuge!” (2:12)

Jesus said to the city of Jerusalem:
How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings… (Luke 13:34).

Ruth found shelter in Judah, eventually marrying Boaz and having a son, who became Naomi’s grandson. They named him Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who was the father of the man who would become King David (Ruth 4:13, 17).

For the children of Jerusalem, of whom Jesus spoke, the story didn’t and hasn’t ended so well. As Jesus foretold, they would not be gathered under the wings of God. They were not willing. Ultimately, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (Luke 13:34-35). And then rebuilt. And then destroyed. And then rebuilt… again and again they have cycled through destruction and restoration. Up until this moment. They wait. They watch. They hope. There is destruction. There is restoration.

Where do we find ourselves in these stories?
Are we waiting and watching and hoping, cycling through destruction and restoration again and again?
Or have we found shelter under the wings of the God who intimately, tenderly protects us?

How does our story end?

Born into sin, suffering would be our destiny if not for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Left on our own, we would be no better than that rebellious brood of baby chicks, ducking in and out from under our mother God’s wings.

This is what we remember in Lent: what might have been our destiny. Sin, suffering, destruction, judgement– is what could have been, but for the wonderful, gracious love of God.
Our destiny is captured in the words Boaz spoke to Ruth, in the blessing her offered. God speaks just such words of hope to us:

May the Lord reward you…
may you have a full reward from the Lord,
the God of Israel,
under whose wings you have come for refuge!” (Ruth 2:12)

Our God is our refuge. Thanks be to God.
Amen.

First Wednesday of Lent – Wednesday, March 1, 2019

March 13, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Do you know what a “trust fall” is?
When I used to do trust falls at camp as a camp counselor, we would get all of the campers in our group to stand in a tight circle. Then we asked one camper to stand in the center of the circle. That camper was asked to cross her arms over her chest, close her eyes, and then fall back into the arms of the other campers, who would then pass her around the circle or across the circle.
It is called a “trust fall” for obvious reasons; the person in the center has to trust that he or she will be caught by those who make up the outer circle.

There is a clip I saw on YouTube of a family doing a “trust fall.”
It was obviously done at a church or church camp—there is a cross on the wall and the leader appears to be a pastor.
The leader asks one young gentleman, a guy that looks like he is in his twenties, to stand on a chair. The young man stands on the chair and takes a couple of deep breaths. He closes his eyes as the leader invites the rest of the group to gather around the chair. He tells the young man that, on the count of three, he should fall and the group will catch him.
The young man takes another deep breath, then another. The leader counts 1 – 2 – 3 and then the young man falls.
But—
The group was gathered around behind him to catch him as he fell backwards.
And he fell forward.
The video ends with the leader shouting “No! No!”
So we don’t know what happened next but we can guess.

Psalm 91 is a psalm about trust.
As it is written in verses 1 and 2:

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
Who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
Will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
My God, in whom I trust.”

Do you ever feel like you are falling?
Falling into the known or into the unknown—I’m not sure which is worse.
What is best is the knowledge that, as we fall, we can trust God to be with us.
We can trust that God will “bear us up” (Psalm 91:12).

Scholars do not agree on the origins of this psalm.
“Some suggest” it was written by “a person who had sought refuge in the Temple from persecutors” (“Psalm 91” The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 4, p. 1046). “Others propose that the psalmist offered thankful testimony after recovery from a serious illness” (TNIB, p. 1046). Yet others suggest it might have been part of a liturgy used “by the king before a battle” (TNIB, p. 1046) or that it was a “testimony offered by a recent convert” (TNIB, p. 1046).

The point is, the psalm has “served throughout the centuries and continues to serve as a source of encouragement and strength” (TNIB p. 1047).

This psalm can serve as a source of encouragement and strength for us. When we feel like we are falling. Or when we feel like we are just plain stuck in a place we don’t want to be. Or when we are afraid. Or when we feel alone.

We are not alone. We can be afraid but we are not alone. We can feel stuck but we are not alone.
Knowing we are not alone, we can give ourselves, our whole selves to whatever it is we are feeling and/or thinking, knowing God is with us, supporting us, carrying us, lifting us, holding us, loving us through our feelings, loving us through our thoughts.
The psalmist wrote that God said

Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.
(Psalm 91:14-16)

This is not an insurance policy against suffering.
This is a promise made to God’s people: God is with us through our suffering.

And then, when our life on this earth has ended, there is a second promise:
God, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, promises us salvation from sin, into life everlasting.

Life with God.
Forever.
Amen.

Next Page »